120 brand new International buses have joined the HISD fleet, at a total cost of about $9 million. They have the newest diesel engines that are easier to maintain and produce less pollution. They have better suspension and air conditioning for a more comfortable ride, and a new safety feature that addresses the problem of children falling asleep and drivers forgetting they're there. Transportation Director Bonnie Russell says it happens.
"There's now actually an electronic device at the rear of the bus, so that once the bus is turned off after a route, the driver must go back and deactivate electronically. So we're making sure that we're checking that bus for the presence of sleeping children."
The new buses also have two-way radios and security cameras, but they don't have seat belts, which Russell says are not required because there's disagreement on whether they do any good or not. She says seat belts would cause more problems than they'd solve. She says studies show children who use lap belts are more prone to injuries than children who don't, and the jury is still out on three point seat belts. Even so, Russell says even without seat belts, school buses are the safest way to travel.
"When you look at the national statistics, and you see that on the average in the United States, about eight children are killed related to school bus transportation, and more than half of those are killed outside the bus. When you compare that to the other half of our nation's children that are getting to school some other way, there's more than 800 that lose their lives on the way to school."
Russell has installed a new fuel management and maintenance system that's brought HISD's maintenance and fuel costs down significantly. It uses fuel usage monitoring and better preventive maintenance schedules to reduce bus breakdowns and keep buses on the streets. Fleet Operations Manager Mark Swackhamer says it's working.
"Two and a half years ago we revamped our preventive maintenance program here at HISD. Completely redid the scheduling and the way that we do the PM's and the inspections and how our repairs were going. We were able to reduce our breakdowns almost 30 percent over the last two years."
With a similar percentage reduction in maintenance costs. Swackhamer says with fewer buses breaking down, they can do a more thorough job of repairing those that do, and devote more time to preventive maintenance on all the buses to keep them from breaking down in the first place, and save taxpayer money. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio.